Contact Info

(for those who care)

Instant Gratification   

Sun, 09 Jan 2005

Beware the Broadcast Flag

Reading slashdot today reminded me that I needed to snag an HDTV card before they are required to be feature-crippled with Digital Restrictions Management (DRM). I’ve got an older Hauppauge WinTV/Radio card which was pretty cool, I enjoyed watching some TV, DVD’s through there, recording some stuff from the radio. Nowadays, the FCC is working with all the “Big Corporations” to require built-in restrictions on devices for watching HDTV.

What this means is that you or I won’t be able to record something off TV, save it to your hard drive, copy it to your USB keychain (or burn to a CD), take it with you on an airplane, watch it on your laptop, then give it to your friend. The relevant portion is below (emphasis mine).

The Demodulator Compliance Requirements insist that all HDTV demodulators must listen for the flag (or assume it to be present in all signals). Flagged content must be output only to “protected outputs” or in degraded form: through analog outputs or digital outputs with visual resolution of 720x480 pixels or less—less than 1/4 of HDTV’s capability. Flagged content may be recorded only by “Authorized” methods, which may include tethering of recordings to a single device.


This means that your output will be non-HDTV, or your files will have restrictions on them and will be a major pain to move around, especially if you buy a new computer or want to put it onto portable media. See the following story for a current, real-world example of what Digital Restrictions Management does to people right now, and why I’m sticking with CD’s and not buying from iTunes (let’s see: $12 for a cd with 15 songs that I can drop on the floor, take in the shower, put in the dishwasher, rip to my hard-drive, and keep 10+ years … or $1 per song that is restricted on what I can do with, and I will eventually be locked out of).

I speak from experience. Because I buy a new Powerbook every ten months, and because I always order the new models the day they’re announced, I get a lot of lemons from Apple. That means that I hit Apple’s three-iTunes-authorized-computers limit pretty early on and found myself unable to play the hundreds of dollars’ worth of iTunes songs I’d bought because one of my authorized machines was a lemon that Apple had broken up for parts, one was in the shop getting fixed by Apple, and one was my mom’s computer, 3,000 miles away in Toronto.

If I had been a less good customer for Apple’s hardware, I would have been fine. If I had been a less enthusiastic evangelist for Apple’s products — if I hadn’t shown my mom how iTunes Music Store worked — I would have been fine. If I hadn’t bought so much iTunes music that burning it to CD and re-ripping it and re-keying all my metadata was too daunting a task to consider, I would have been fine.

As it was Apple rewarded my trust, evangelism and out-of-control spending by treating me like a crook and locking me out of my own music, at a time when my Powerbook was in the shop — i.e., at a time when I was hardly disposed to feel charitable to Apple.


Bottom line is, I just bought a PC-HDTV3000 card because in six months it will be illegal to sell (think about investing in these things to sell on e-bay, because it’s likely they would only go up in value post-broadcast flag restrictions). And because I don’t want to be artificially restricted in how I watch TV or HDTV.

Support the EFF and donate if you can. You’ll get a cool hat and shirt and they’ll fight for your freedoms in the online world. A very good trade, in my opinion.

10:53 CST | category / entries
permanent link | comments?

Like what you just read? Subscribe to a syndicated feed of my weblog, brought to you by the wonders of RSS.

Thanks for Visiting!